Written by Jennifer Micale / PressConnects.com
VESTAL, NY -- Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield's portrait hangs on Vestal High School's Hall of Fame, alongside surgeons, an astronaut, educators and more.
However, some Vestal residents feel the conservative Tennessee state senator's picture should be taken down, based on comments he has made concerning homosexuality and AIDS. Campfield (R-Knoxville), who sponsored his state's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill that would ban teachers from discussing homosexuality, made national headlines in January following an interview on Sirius XM radio during which he discussed the origin and transmission of AIDS.
"Senator Stacey Campfield's unabashed homophobic rhetoric and his blatant ignorance regarding how AIDS is transmitted serves only to oppress, hurt, and diminish the dignity of other human beings while at the same time fueling the cause of bullies everywhere," said John Perricone, a Vestal Class of 1977 graduate who has taught at Maine-Endwell High School for 29 years.
"Displaying his picture on Vestal's Wall of Fame disgraces and tarnishes this school's reputation. We simply ask that Vestal's BOE remove his picture so that our pride in our Alma Mater can be restored," Perricone said.
Perricone and others were expected to attend Vestal's Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.
In June, Vestal senior Nisha Dalvie called Campfield's sentiments abusive in "Bear Facts," the school newspaper. In a front-page editorial, she noted the administration strives to stand up to discrimination.
While Superintendent Mark LaRoach condemned Campfield's statements as ugly and unbefitting a Vestal graduate, he said the issue was one of free speech. The district has no intention of taking Campfield's picture down.
Armed with critical thinking, Vestal students are capable of challenging Campfield's statements on their own, LaRoach said. He cited part of the district's mission statement, which seeks to have students "demonstrate an awareness of social, cultural and civic responsibilities for participating in a democratic society." The disagreement over Campfield's statements is part of that conversation.
"It's certainly something we take seriously," he said. "I think our students are well-prepared to handle this."
Campfield, a member of the Class of 1986, was inducted in 2008. The hall of fame committee vetted Campfield at that time and didn't encounter any statements similar to those he made in the past year, LaRoach said.
In a brief e-mail to the Press & Sun-Bulletin, Campfield said his opponents "are welcome to their point of view."
"While I do not hate them I do not support sodomy," he wrote. "The homosexual lifestyle is dangerous and deadly."
Vestal began its Hall of Fame in 1995 as a way to recognize outstanding alumni; more than 40 have been inducted so far, a maximum of three per year. Nominations are presented to the Hall of Fame committee throughout the year. Nominees are selected for induction into the Hall of Fame based on their local, regional, national or international recognition in one or more areas.